Moral Intuitionism Defeated?
by Nathan Ballantyne and Joshua C. Thurow
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has developed
and progressively refined an argument against
moral intuitionism—the view on which some
moral beliefs enjoy non-inferential justification.
He has stated his argument in a few
different forms, but the basic idea is straightforward.
To start with, Sinnott-Armstrong
highlights facts relevant to the truth of moral
beliefs: such beliefs are sometimes biased, influenced
by various irrelevant factors, and often
subject to disagreement. Given these facts,
Sinnott-Armstrong infers that many moral
beliefs are false. What then shall we think
of our own moral beliefs? Either we have
reason to think some of our moral beliefs are
reliably formed or we have no such reason. If
the latter, our moral beliefs are unjustified. If
we have reason to think some moral beliefs
are reliably formed, then those beliefs are not
non-inferentially justified, because then we’ll
have reason to accept something—namely,
that they are reliably formed—that entails or
supports those beliefs. But then, either way,
our moral beliefs are not non-inferentially
justified, and so moral intuitionism is false.
This paper takes issue with Sinnott-Armstrong’s
interesting and widely discussed
argument, which we here call the Empirical
Defeat Argument (EDA). According to us, the
EDA does not defeat moral intuitionism. In
section 1, we will set out the argument, briefly
reviewing the rationale Sinnott-Armstrong
offers for the premises. Then, in section 2,
we identify a critical but dubious epistemological
assumption concerning the nature of
defeat that undergirds the argument. Finally,
in section 3, we will defend our challenge to
the EDA by answering two objections.